Center for Community and Global Health Medicine Abroad

Learning locally, caring globally

Traveling abroad and experiencing medicine in a different country is something most Stritch School of Medicine students are fortunate enough to do through Ignatian Service Immersion and Global health opportunities. Ruben Frescas, MD ’10, MPH, has been traveling the world ever since he took a trip to Guatemala during his time as a medical student at Loyola.

“I have always loved the Loyola motto of caring for the whole person,” said Frescas. “You’re focusing not only on the individual, but also their family, their community. It’s not just disease-driven intervention. That is true no matter where you’re practicing medicine.”

Frescas has worked as a physician in multiple countries, and each place has given him a unique perspective on caring for patients and what really makes a difference in their lives and overall health. 



During his time at Stritch, Frescas went to San Lucas, Guatemala, where he worked with the local community and its resources to help with urgent care and infectious disease issues.

There he learned that simply engaging in the community and showing compassion was just as an important part of the caregiving process as actual disease management. The engagement built trust between health care providers and patients and made it easier to spread public health messages.


Frescas was stationed in Embulbul, Kenya, outside of Nairobi. He worked within a youth art program, where he was able to educate kids on HIV prevention, vitamin deficiencies, and perform vision screenings and provide glasses.

Here he learned an important lesson: “People always want to help and have ways to solve problems. But sometimes the resources necessary to follow through aren’t always there.”


You’re focusing not only on the individual, but also their family, their community. It’s not just disease-driven intervention."
— Ruben Frescas, MD '10

While in India, Frescas was in a hospital setting, working in the emergency room, intensive care unit, and a tuberculosis hospital. Though rare in the United States, tuberculosis (TB) remains a big public health issue in India, with the highest number of TB-related deaths in the world.

It also took some time for Frescas to become familiar with the culture, beliefs, and values of India, and he realized that medicine is not uniform across every country and every border. Working to understand the values of a community, he said, went a long way in facilitating care.


While in Haiti, he worked with Physicians for Haiti, which partnered experts in various fields with Haitian healthcare providers while they were rebuilding after the devastating earthquake in 2010. Frescas mostly worked in a public health setting, teaching classes on basic epidemiology and infectious diseases causes and prevention.

Similar to his experience in India, Frescas found that empowering people in their communities means providing opportunities for people to understand one another’s perspectives. When everyone is not heard, it is difficult to rebuild communities and handle the challenges that come with it.

100 million

people pushed into extreme poverty

In 2010, almost 100 million people were pushed into extreme poverty because they had to pay for health services out of their own pockets

13 million

people die every year before 70

13 million people die every year before the age of 70 from cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer – most in low and middle-income countries


Physician to population ratio

In the period 2007 – 2016, 76 countries reported having less than one physician per 1000 population


Working in community health and primary care in Nicaragua gave Frescas a valuable and difficult insight: Just because healthcare is available for a community doesn’t mean they will always take the opportunity.

Some free clinics that were not open reliably or had a lower quality of care were not frequented by people because they did not trust the care they could get there. People wanted to get medical care where they could trust the facility and the healthcare professionals, even if it meant not receiving free care.

Geneva, Switzerland

 The World Health Organization (WHO), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, states that the definition of health is not just being in good physical condition. It also means social and mental well-being, not just the absence of disease. This definition is not only something Frescas learned at Stritch, but also through his global health experiences that eventually lead him to work for WHO.

There he helped write and develop policies when it came to quality of care and universal health coverage. Much of his work relied on data to help prove that policies would be effective.

“Data is only part of the picture,” he said. “There is also a lot of context around that data that helps to tell the rest of the story, particularly when it comes to healthcare.”


Frescas currently lives in Mozambique, where he oversees HIV prevention and management projects. Despite living there with his wife and child, he finds he’s learning something new about the culture every day, as he did with his previous destinations.

“I found out quickly that you can live somewhere and still be ignorant to local needs and realities,” he said. “Open communication is so important, and even when that doesn’t happen or a program doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It’s only a failure if we’re not learning from it and creating something better for people and the community.”